Blue Jackets 3, Stars 1: Still in the hunt
Crucial two points secured, but playoff hopes rest on winning regular-season finale on Saturday at home
Blue Jackets center Mark Letestu celebrates with teammates after scoring the go-ahead goal on a power play in the third period.
DALLAS — The Blue Jackets have gotten by on a thin margin of error for two months, so it’s no surprise their Stanley Cup playoffs fate will be decided on the final day of the season.
The Blue Jackets staved off elimination with a 3-1 victory over the Dallas Stars last night in front of 16,918 at American Airlines Center. Mark Letestu and Cam Atkinson scored third-period power-play goals, and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky made 31 saves for his 20th victory of the season.
“We came in here and did our job, won our game,” center Brandon Dubinsky said. “It’s not done yet, but we’ve given ourselves a chance. That’s all we can ask for, a chance.”
The Blue Jackets will need a victory over Nashville on Saturday night at Nationwide Arena and a regulation loss by Detroit, which plays here against the Stars that night.
That is the most likely scenario for the Blue Jackets to gain their second playoff spot in 12 seasons.
The other possibility is a victory on Saturday and hoping the Minnesota Wild gets no more than a point in its final two games — tonight against Edmonton and Saturday at Colorado.
Minnesota and Columbus each have 53 points, and the Wild holds the tiebreaker over the Blue Jackets, which is most regulation and overtime victories.
Either way, the Blue Jackets’ season will come down to Saturday, something no one would have believed when they were last in the NHL at 5-12-2 on Feb. 24.
“It’s going to be fun on Saturday,” defenseman Jack Johnson said. “It’s going to be great. This is how you turn Columbus into a hockey town.”
The Blue Jackets finished their season-high six-game trip with a 5-1 record. They had only five road victories all season before the trip began on April 13.
“I’m sure (Nationwide Arena) is going to be loud,” coach Todd Richards said. “I think the players have earned that; I think the fans have earned it.”
Last night’s game was like so many others for the Blue Jackets this season — it was full of drama and unnerving moments. No time to breathe, much less blink.
The Jackets took a 1-0 lead 19 seconds into the game when Atkinson dived on the puck left by Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen. The Stars rallied, at times dictating the pace of the game.
The Stars were eliminated from the playoff hunt by Detroit’s victory over Nashville last night, but they played most of the game as if their season depended on it. Dallas, having tied the score with Jamie Benn’s power-play goal at 8:43 of the second, was buzzing late in the period.
“It sure felt like we were hanging on,” Letestu said. “But we got out of it at 1-1, and we came in here during the break and there was nothing but confidence in the room. We’ve been in situations all year.”
At 7:56 of the third, Letestu one-timed a faceoff victory by Dubinsky at the start of a power play to make it 2-1. His shot glanced off the stick of Stars winger Eric Nystrom to beat Lehtonen.
The rest was up Bobrovsky, who strengthened his case to win the NHL’s Vezina Trophy, awarded to the league’s top goaltender.
With 1:40 remaining, Atkinson pounced on a rebound off a Johnson shot and converted.
“I can’t wait to get back in our barn again, in front of fans,” Atkinson said. “We wouldn’t want it any other way.”